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UNC is the 'chalk' for 2012

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Originally published on May 20.

We’re still a long way from the 2011-2012 college basketball season, but that doesn’t mean that betting shops aren’t offering wagers already. Sportsbook.com has posted its future numbers to win the national title and North Carolina is the favorite with plus-300 odds (risk $100 to win $300).

The website has reduced the Tar Heels’ number from plus-400 earlier in May.

UNC got a big boost when its frontcourt studs, John Henson and Tyler Zeller, and its star, Harrison Barnes, bypassed the NBA Draft to return to school. In fact, if you look at the 2012 mock draft at nbadraft.net, you’ll find four returning Carolina starters and one incoming freshman who are listed as first-round picks.

Barnes is listed as the No. 2 overall pick, followed by James McAdoo at No. 3. McAdoo is the nephew of Bob McAdoo, who is a 5-time NBA All-Star who played at UNC in the early 1970s. He is a 6’9” forward from out of Norfolk, VA.

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Kendall Marshall, who ignited the Tar Heels when he was inserted into the starting lineup midway through this past season, is listed as the No. 14 pick in the 2012 mock. Zeller and Henson are at 24 and 25, respectively.

The teams with the second-shortest odds are Ohio State and Kentucky, both of whom have a plus-600 number (risk $100 to win $600). John Calipari’s team caught a pair of breaks when Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb both opted to return to school.

Those rising sophomores will be joined by a third straight recruiting class that’s considered the nation’s best. Three incoming freshmen – center Anthony Davis (No. 1), guard Marquis Teague (No. 9) and forward Michael Gilchrist (No. 12) -- are listed as lottery picks in nbadraft.net’s 2012 mock.

Ohio State lost three key players in Jon Diebler, David Lighty and Dallas Lauderdale, but it returns future lottery pick Jared Sullinger and potential future first-round pick William Buford. The Buckeyes also have hard-nosed PG Aaron Craft back and they’re adding another heralded class headlined by LaQuinton Ross.

The next-shortest odds belong to four traditional programs, Louisville, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Duke. All three have 15/1 odds to cut the nets down at the Superdome in New Orleans next April 2.

Rick Pitino’s team had an excellent season in 2009-2010, only to get upset by Morehead State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Nevertheless, the Cardinals bring back most of their nucleus with Preston Knowles and Terrence Jennings being the only exceptions. They also add a pair of high-profile recruits in Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear.

Duke went down against Arizona in the Sweet 16 and it has lost veterans Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, in addition to point guard Kyrie Irving who never really got his chance to shine for the Blue Devils. On the bright side, Mike Krzyzewski’s squad returns Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins, three Plumlee brothers and five-star recruit Austin Rivers, a former Florida commitment who is the son of Marquette legend Doc Rivers.

The ‘Cuse went down against Marquette in the second round of this past season’s Big Dance. Veteran center starter Rick Jackson is the lone loss from the roster, however, so Jim Boeheim’s team figures to advance further the next time around.

Pitt lost three starters but rising senior Ashton Gibbs elected not to leave college early. Gibbs and Travon Woodall will give Jamie Dixon one of the country’s premier backcourts.

Texas owns 25/1 odds at Sportsbook.com. The Longhorns aren’t anywhere to be found in the preseason Top 25’s at Rivals.com or FoxSports.com, yet they have the eighth-shortest odds at the gambling website. Rick Barnes’ team has lost seniors Gary Johnson, Dogus Balbay and Jai Lucas, while underclassmen Cory Joseph, Tristan Thompson and Jordan Hamilton left school early.

There are three programs with 30/1 odds – Florida, UConn and Memphis. The Gators let a double-digit lead get away in the second half of their Elite Eight showdown against Butler, but they return an outstanding backcourt with senior Erving Walker and junior Kenny Boynton.

UF also adds Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario, who led the Scarlet Knights in scoring two seasons ago. Billy Donovan also went into St. Louis, the same place he scored David Lee a decade ago, to land Brad Beal. The McDonald’s All-American is listed as a lottery pick in the 2012 mock at nbadraft.net.

Florida also returns Erik Murphy and Patric Young to replace departed ‘bigs’ like Vernon Macklin, Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons. Murphy was suspended indefinitely in April for an incident in St. Augustine, but those charges were recently reduced and gamblers shouldn’t expect Murphy to miss much time in November.

UConn is the defending national champion, handing Jim Calhoun his third title with its improbable run through the NCAA Tournament that was capped by a run-away-and-hide win over Butler in the title game. Kemba Walker declared early, but the cupboard isn’t bare in Storrs by any means. Look for Jeremy Lamb to become the go-to guy for the Huskies.

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Memphis head coach Josh Paster continues to turn heads on the recruiting trail and another strong haul arrives this year. Adonis Thomas is the prize of that bunch.

Kansas, Arizona, Michigan, Michigan St. and Gonzaga have 40/1 odds, followed by schools like Xavier (50/1), Wisconsin (50/1), Purdue (60/1) and West Va. (60/1).

The Wolverines were at 30/1 until rising junior guard Darius Morris elected to stay in the NBA Draft. If Morris would’ve returned, the entire nucleus of a team that went 15-1 against the spread down the stretch would’ve been back in Ann Arbor. With Morris and Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan would’ve had the best backcourt in the country as far as this space is concerned.

Nevertheless, the Wolverines will be one of the premier teams in the Big Ten along with Wisconsin, which brings back Jordan Taylor, one of the nation’s best PGs.

Xavier lost a couple of key players, but Tu Holloway is coming back and that’s what’s most important. This scribe went to great lengths to hype Holloway’s incredible campaign last year, but the dynamic PG produced an abysmal performance in a first-round exit to Marquette in the NCAA Tourney.

We’ll give Holloway a mulligan, however, and once again call him the best point guard in America for the 2011-2012 season. He’ll have more help around him in Kenny Frease, the big man that just keeps improving, and Mark Lyons and Jeff Robinson. Also, a few recruits are coming in and a pair of injured players (Brad Redford and Justin Martin) should be healthy.

If you’re looking for an undervalued team, I’ll recommend Vanderbilt. Yes, the Commodores have gone down in gut-wrenching fashion against Murray St. and Richmond in the last two NCAA Tourneys, but they bring back their entire roster.

That personnel includes a trio of players that’ll be drafted in 2012, including John Jenkins (if he leaves after junior campaign), Jeffery Taylor and Festus Ezeli. Steve Tchiengang is another ‘big’ to bang in the lane with Ezeli, while senior guard Brad Tinsley is one of the SEC’s most underrated players.

I also like head coach Kevin Stallings, who will field his most talented team to date. Vandy has 100/1 odds (like Florida did in 2006) that I think will be reduced in the near future.

Another undervalued SEC team is Alabama. In Anthony Grant’s third year, the Crimson Tide is going to hear its name called on Selection Sunday. Grant has talent galore in JaMychal Green, Trevor Releford and Tony Mitchell and this squad really gelled while advancing to the NIT finals.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

--Arizona announced on May 16 that Lamont ‘MoMo’ Jones is leaving the school after helping it to the Elite Eight this past year. Jones, who averaged 9.7 points per game, was expected to lose his starting job to incoming freshman Josiah Turner.

--South Florida has dismissed senior point guard Anthony Crater for a “violation of team rules.” Crater, a transfer from Ohio State, started 29 games for Stan Heat’s squad last season. He averaged 3.9 points and 4.6 assists as the Bulls’ starting PG in 2010-2011, but he was booted from the program for a third failed drug test according to multiple reports.

--When Gary Williams retired recently, it brought about an unexpected turn of events in the coaching profession. The Terrapins landed Texas A&M’s Mark Turgeon as Williams’ replacement, prompting the Aggies to reach out to former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy, Marquette’s Buzz Williams, Colorado’s Tad Boyle, Memphis’ Josh Pastner, Murray State’s Billy Kennedy and Northern Iowa’s Ben Jacobsen. Van Gundy, Pastner and Boyle weren’t interested, while Williams’ contract situation made that situation untenable. Therefore, it came down to Kennedy and Jacobsen with the former Murray St. coach winning out. He was introduced in College Station on May 16.

Brian Edwards can be reached at briane@vegasinsider.com.

For daily sports gambling analysis, follow Brian Edwards on twitter at Vegasbedwards.

  
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